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John Ellis Double-Wide: Jazz Gets Jocular

Saxophonist John Ellis remembers what started the mischief of Double-Wide, his latest project in which modern jazz is dressed in carnival regalia.

"I played a very memorable gig in the '90s in New Orleans with Matt Perrine, the sousaphonist," Ellis says. "I just filed it away, like, 'I need to do a record with sousaphone one day.'"

Double-Wide's first recording, Dance Like There's No Tomorrow, reconnected Ellis to his formative music career in New Orleans, and it introduced a collection of instruments rarely heard together in a jazz ensemble — saxophone, organ, sousaphone and drums.

"I didn't get a chance to hear how that sound would be," Ellis says. "I just booked the recording session, brought the guys up to New York, crossed my fingers and hoped it would work."

It worked enough for a second helping. Double-Wide's latest recording, Puppet Mischief, adds two more instruments to the fracas.

"I got asked to present an expanded version of Double-Wide down in St. Bart's," Ellis says. "And I resisted it. But after a while, I said if was going to be bigger, what would I add? I came up with trombone and harmonica."

What's With The Title?

"We were in Brazil, and guitarist Mike Moreno said something about puppet mischief, and I just died laughing. It just resonated with me," Ellis says. "There's a circus tendency with the combination of harmonica, organ, sousaphone and trombone timbres. There's humor to it. I'm very serious about this band, but I also laugh out loud when we play."

In this WBGO session, the band performs three John Ellis originals: a perverse Mardi Gras song with a tongue-in-cheek nod to Professor Longhair ("Fauxfessor"), a composition named after a willfully repetitive harmonica theme ("Dewey Dah"), and a jocular parade beat with a slight funk aroma ("Okra and Tomatoes").

Like Okra And Tomatoes, They Are

Of the latter, Ellis notes that "the okra that I had growing up in North Carolina was almost always fried — some combination of flour, cornmeal and oil. It was mostly in Louisiana where I got into okra and tomatoes. My mother's cousin talked about okra and tomatoes as a saying that you use for when things in life really fit together."

That sounds like a description made for Double-Wide: okra, tomatoes, maybe even a little spice. And maybe there's still room in the pot for a few more ingredients.

"I was affectionately calling the band Super-Wide at one point because it's the expanded version," Ellis says. "My brother's giving me a hard time that if it gets any bigger, we'll have to call it Trailer Park."


Recorded Jan. 9, 2010, at WBGO. Producer and host: Josh Jackson. Mix by Josh Webb.

Copyright 2010 WBGO

Josh Jackson is the associate general manager for programming and content at WRTI.